Thursday, November 25, 2010

Memorable Deaths of the Silver Screen

Just like in real life, there's no more dramatic an event in film than death. Sure, there are literally hundreds of movies where death is cheap - slashers where one-dimensional characters are violently offed by a psycho, crazy action flicks where dozens of nameless henchmen are blown away by the heroes and comedies where death itself is actually the punchline.

But my above statement is still the rule and not the exception when it comes to film in general. The fact is that, tragic and unfair as it almost always is, death is a necessary part of life and it exists to give life meaning. In most movies it's much the same and sometimes it's the death of a character that really gives that film meaning.

When it's done right, a movie death can be extraordinarily powerful and affecting to the audience, getting us all to genuinely feel something for a fictional character. Of course there are plenty of movies out there based on true events with characters representing real people and when one of them dies it should be all the more impactful. But the truth is, that's far from always the case.

This list, for the most part, deals with movie deaths that are memorable for the depth of emotion they evoked rather than the spectacle some generate.

note: While I’m sure I could find all these scenes on youtube and link them for you, I feel that viewing any of them outside the context of a full viewing of its respective film would be doing a huge disservice to the film as well as yourself.  So go watch these movies, hepcats.

5. Wicked Witch of the West - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1939) What a world, what a world
Here is the black sheep of this list as it's the death of the movie's main villain and it's hardly a character the audience is ever made to identify with or feel sorry for. What exactly causes it to remain one of the most iconic deaths in all of cinema is difficult to say. Here we have a movie adaptation of a beloved children's fantasy book, which is also a musical.  Not only that, but the death of the main antagonist seems a little unimaginative after all the strange and interesting stuff Oz had to offer. I mean, water? Really?

But it’s still memorable anyway. The movie, as opposed to the book, leaves out a lot of the more dangerous elements sent Dorothy and her companions's way (the deadly field of poppies, the wolf attack etc.) so when they’re finally faced with the Wicked Witch de l’Ouest it’s actually a little jarring. Our heroes don’t seem to be any match for her power (“How about a little fire, Scarecrow?”). But then - whoops! Dorothy spills a little H20 and the green hag is toast. She melts into the floor, wailing her disbelief at it all and maybe, just for one brief moment, we do feel a little something for her. After all, she wanted vengeance for the death of her sister which isn’t completely unreasonable. But she’s still a cruel tyrant, enslaving the Winkies and terrorizing the...West, I suppose, and she’s getting what she deserves.

While not particularly spectacular to behold or emotionally compelling to absorb, the Witch’s death still just has that indescribable something that makes it memorable, even after all these years.

4. Obi-Wan Kenobi - Star Wars (1977) Strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine
It felt like we were only really just beginning to get to know the old Jedi warrior when he was cut down by Darth Vader. Even more devastating was that for some reason he actually allowed himself to be cut down. The last two of their order engaged in a titanic struggle of Good vs Evil, with the old master facing his long since corrupted student and then just out of no where Ben completely drops his defences.

He’d informed Vader during the fight: “Strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine,” and we’re left wondering what that could mean. The dark lord of the Sith made no mistake in using the opening and finishing his opponent but really, despite the fact that he’s incapable of registering a facial expression, we can sense that he’s just as perplexed as we are. Why would Kenobi just give up?

We’re given a hint of why as the last thing Obi-Wan does before raising his light sabre is look at Luke and smile. He knows who Luke is. He knows what he can do. At this point, we don’t. Luke had only just begun his training and already he loses his mentor, the one person he knows of in the universe who can make him a Jedi. Ben is also the one person who seems willing to tell him the truth about his father (ha), unlike his aunt and uncle, who are also gone by this point. But in one instant, he’s gone.

Luke doesn’t even have time to absorb his loss either as he’s being shot at by storm troopers with Han and Leia yelling in his ear. Obi-Wan hasn’t even left a body somehow, something which must confuse the young Skywalker all the more. But it’s just as well because he has to get the hell off the Death Star right at that moment. “Run Luke, run!” urges the old Jedi’s voice inside his head. At this point Luke can only conclude that it’s his imagination.

During the film’s climax at the Battle of Yavin, Ben’s voice speaks to Luke once more, telling him to trust his instincts to make the crucial shot to destroy the giant battle station. In the aftermath of the explosion he tells Luke: “The Force will be with you. Always.” And so will he.

3. Old Yeller - Old Yeller (1957)
He was my dog...I'll do it
Who says a memorable death has to be that of a human character? And while anyone can name all sorts of significant animal character deaths in film like Bambi’s mother, Mufasa or Nicodemus, those are all animals given human characteristics. But an animal doesn’t need human characteristics to make an emotional impact. Case in point: Old Yeller.

Walt Disney once said: “For every laugh, there should be a tear.” I don’t feel I need to explain that. Old Yeller is one of the finest examples of this sentiment as anyone who’s even heard of the movie knows it’s a real tear-jerker.

What a lot of people who have actually seen the movie forget is that initially, Travis doesn’t even like the dog. On their first meeting he tries to drive him off after the retriever inadvertently causes a fence to get knocked down. From that point on, the story is all about how the two develop an intense bond. Old Yeller shows himself to be loyal, loving and heroic and he and the boy become inseparable.

Old Yeller’s death is of course most memorable because he doesn’t just grow old or get sick but instead contracts rabies after defending his family from a wolf. Caged in the aftermath, it’s devastating seeing what’s become of this beloved animal and the audience knows as well as the characters that there is only one sensible and compassionate thing to be done: put Old Yeller down.

It’s Travis who insists on shooting his best friend after his mother says that she’ll take care of it.

Katie Coates: There’s no hope for him now. He’s sufferin’. You know we gotta do it.
Travis: I know Mama. But he was my dog...I’ll do it.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from the film that very much sums up the lessons it teaches.

“Now and then, for no good reason, life will haul off and knock a man flat.” - Jim Coates, Travis’s father.

2. Albus Dumbledore - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) Severus, please
I did a lot of thinking over this one but I just kept coming back to it. Eventually I realized not only would it have to make the list but it would have to rank high. History will judge if this film truly ranks among the others but its pivotal moment surely resonated with a generation in powerful fashion.

One advantage Half-Blood Prince enjoys over its list contemporaries is that it is the sixth installment in a seven part story, which is represented by eight separate films. By this time we’ve become more than just familiar with Dumbledore (played by two different actors), we’ve slowly gotten to know him pretty well despite his sometimes aloof and mysterious nature. And just like Harry, we’ve become accustomed to the idea that he’s always going to be there. Despite the amount of difficulty and danger Harry and his friends so often faced on their own over their years at Hogwarts, they still had the assurance that their beloved headmaster was protecting them. Even before Harry was aware of his existence or his own personal history, Dumbledore was there keeping him safe. Right from the very beginning. And now that things look their absolute darkest, with Voledemort returned to full power and supported by an army of fanatics, their great, wise champion is suddenly gone forever.

Much like Obi-Wan’s death, we see the old master more or less allow himself to be killed. The difference here is that Harry doesn’t really seem to pick up on this fact. Dumbledore’s reasons are also a little more complicated than the old Jedi’s but his actions still come down to one thing: just as Obi-Wan believed in Luke and knew he could defeat Vader and the Empire, Dumbledore believed in Harry.

The aftermath is absolutely heart-wrenching as we see all the students and teachers gather around the body of their fallen mentor, protector and friend. The music reaches a crescendo of devastating sorrow while everyone raises their wands to dispel the evil image left in the sky by Dumbledore’s killers.

Although the movie is barely a year old as of this writing, I honestly believe that the death of Dumbledore will go down as one of the great ones in all of cinema.

1. Roy Batty - Blade Runner (1982) Tears in the rain
Coming back around to the same twist that the death of the Wicked Witch of the West had, Roy Batty’s death in Blade Runner is actually the death of the film’s main antagonist. But by the time it’s all over, we’ve come to realize that he wasn’t a true villain and that his actions, while destructive and amoral, are still somewhat understandable.

Throughout the film, Batty, an android with a built-in four year lifespan, is on a quest to discover if there is any way to extend his time. As the narrative mostly follows Deckard as he hunts down Batty and his compatriots, we don’t actually learn Batty’s intent for some time. Originally it just seemed as though the replicants had gone haywire, causing death and destruction that serves no purpose. The last thing we’re going to do is empathize with them. But somewhere along the way, that starts to change. Batty is on a quest for answers and they’re the same answers that we as humans have been searching for throughout our entire existence.

While Batty is a creation of man and knows what his intended purpose is, he’s still a sentient being who yearns to find meaning. Once informed by Tyrell, his creator (“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker”) that nothing can be done to extend his life, Batty appears to have some sort of spiritual epiphany. In his grief and outrage, he murders the man who gave him life. But then there is still Deckard, the man who has been hunting him and his comrades, to be dealt with.

Tracking the two remaining replicants to the delapidated building where genetic designer J.F Sebastian made his home, Deckard disposes of Pris rather easily before being confronted by Batty. What follows is more of a hunt than a battle, with Deckard proving no physical match for Batty, who seems to be highly deranged at this point. It all comes to a head on the rooftop, with Deckard, in his bid to escape his superior nemesis, attempting to jump from the building to the next. Again his human form lets him down as he barely makes the jump and ends up clinging to a rain-slicked gutter. Batty effortlessly makes the leap and crouches watching Deckard struggle to save his life.

Batty has come to the realization that his life was an artificial life and to most humans, is worthless. Just when he’d come to accept that but believe in himself as a worthwhile living thing, he must also accept that his time is over and nothing can be done about that. He crouches and watches the man who’d hunted down and killed all his friends before finally coming for him desperately trying to hold on. His enemy is losing his grip and soon he will fall. With his last act, Batty reaches for Deckard’s arm and hauls him safely onto the roof. Deckard sits in fear and confusion as the last remnants of life leave Roy. Not looking at him, Roy says, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe: Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time; like tears in rain. Time to die.” He bows his head and closes his eyes. A dove he’d been holding takes flight once his grip relaxes. Deckard blearily watches it fly into the dawn sky.

Apparently, actor Rutger Hauer ad-libbed the “tears in the rain” part. It only further adds to what I won’t hesitate to call the most moving and beautiful death scene in all of film so far. Not bad for an android.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spectacular Car Crashes of Cinema

If you love movies then you know that cars = entertainment: chasing each other at high speeds, performing amazing stunts, or being destroyed violently. This list will focus on the latter. I will warn you now that spoilers will be had. If that's a problem for you...avert your gaze!

5. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) - Two Trucks Enter...

While it's not a great movie (though leagues ahead of the final installment) the freeway sequence may be the last really entertaining part of the Matrix trilogy. With its impressive stunt work and creativity, it gives us a solid dose of vehicular wreckage.

The climax of the whole scene is when two 18-wheelers collide head first into each other with a crazy bullet-time shot of the trucks crumpling up like coke cans and erupting in flame and smoke. It may already be looking dated today with the CG effects, but we have to admit at the time, we were all blown away by such an epic crash.

4. The Triplets of Belleville (2003) - Grandma Plays Chicken

I'm sure you hadn't expected to see an animated film on this list, and if you did, I bet it wasn't this one. The Triplets of Belleville is a great movie with tons of character and creativity. But what it has in spades is weirdness, and Jesus Christ is it weird!

The movie centres on an elderly woman named Souza who is on a quest to rescue her grandson from kidnappers. The journey takes her and her dog across the ocean all the way to the big city where they finally track down her grandson and pull off a daring escape while in hot pursuit by the evil captors. What makes it more interesting is that the bad guys seem to own the shittiest and most fragile cars on earth and that leads to hilarious crashes.

When it gets down to only the Boss remaining, Souza faces off against him, even though he is in a car, and she isn't. What she does to defeat him is nothing short of awesome: She trips the car. I know, I know! That doesn't make sense, but it's great. The car goes careening out of control off a bridge. I laughed so hard when I first saw it. The whole movie is available in pieces on youtube, but I highly encourage you to watch it, or at least the final sequence. It may be animated, but it is a truly one of a kind crash.

3. Blues Brothers/ Blues Brothers 2000 (1980, 1998) - Police Car Pileup

I decided to put these films together since they both make great contributions to the history of crashing cars for comedic effect. At the time they were released each one broke the record for most cars crashed on film. That's a great achievement.

Whenever I watch these movies I get the distinct feeling that 90% of the budget went to buying cars, painting them up like police cars, and then totaling them. If you haven't seen these movies, you really need to. Nobody outruns the police is such a ridiculous fashion like the Blues Brothers. The sequel may not live up to the original, but it's worth watching for the pileup alone.

2. Deathproof (2007) - Hold Tight

One of my favourite movies from recent years, Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse flick is pure entertainment wrapped up in a roll cage. I don't know what that means, but let's go with it.

The film has a fantastic conclusion with a memorable chase scene that deserves to be recognized for the stunt work alone. But I don't care about chases, I want collisions, and there are few better than the one that closes the first half of the movie by graphically killing off nearly every main character. We get a maximum speed head to head crash shown four times in quick succession to see the fate of each passenger...and it is gruesome. It's a surprising, impressive, and unique car crash, and I may not want to go driving at night ever again.

1. Final Destination 2 (2003) - Highway to Hell

The Final Destination franchise is one that seems to get a lot of hate, but I can't really understand why. Yes, the 3rd and 4th movies are "straight to video" level bad, but every one is entertaining. As far as modern horror is going, I'd much rather watch characters get killed by Death's Rube Goldberg Machine, than watching the torture porn of 22 Saw films. Seeing someone trapped in a face-smashing machine isn't as suspenseful or as fun as waiting for someone to be killed by a pencil or a folding chair or...SHIT watch out for that box of coat hangers!

Anyway to get to the point, FD2 follows the formula of the first film by opening with a ghastly premonition of some big deadly accident, and this time it's a tragic highway pileup. Hats off to everyone involved in this sequence because it is truly truly spectacular. It starts off with a truck spilling massive logs all over the road, a police car getting turned into a kebab, and from there a chain reaction of disaster ensues. Please check it out.

Not only are the crashes well executed and shot, but the whole sequence plays on our driving fears. What if something goes wrong and I can't get out of the car because of my seatbelt? What if something falls off that truck in front of me? What if something gets jammed under my brake pedal? It's like a beautiful ballet of the worst possible circumstances. It's frightening, it's entertaining, and it's the best car destruction put to film. Period.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dated Games That Still Look Great

 It looks like it's up to me to rescue this wretched blog. Again. Ok then.

Videogames have come a long way since their inception. We've gone from two lines knocking a dot back and forth against a black background to games that can rival big budget movies in terms of visual splendor and realistic visuals. Technology constantly marches on and these days it doesn't take long for a format to become obsolete and what was once the graphical standard to look primitive.

But some games have made such effective use of the technology that existed at the time, paired with some great artwork, that even when they became outdated graphically, they remained great to look at anyway.

This list includes games from up to the fifth generation of consoles plus one PC game that uses early CD-ROM format.

5. Donkey Kong Country (SNES, 1993)
This hip nineties revival and reimagining of a classic eighties franchise came with some sweet cutting-edge graphics that are still pretty nice to look at. Developed by Rare, the game used pre-rendered 3D graphics - something previously unseen on the SNES or Sega Genesis (the two leading home game consoles at the time). To achieve greater graphical detail, a new compression technique was used. Nintendo and Rare promoted the technique as "ACM" for Advanced Computer Modeling.

Luckily, the game didn't just look pretty and also featured some really solid gameplay and it became the highest selling non-bundled SNES game of all time, eventually reaching over 8 million copies sold worldwide. Not bad for a game that didn't feature any direct involvement from the father of Donkey Kong, Shigeru Miyamoto.

4. Myst (PC, 1993)
1993 was  a cool year, wasn't it? There was Jurassic Park, Nirvana's final studio album In Utero, a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup (even if it was the Habs), the Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series and all sorts of girls I find myself looking at when I'm at the the mall were born.

It was also a pretty good year for videogames as the fourth generation of consoles was at its peak. But cool stuff was happening in the world of computer gaming too and there was no bigger event back then than the phenomenon that was Myst.

Often referred to as "the game for non-gamers", Myst took the whole point-and-click adventure game concept and flipped it on its ear, pretty much inventing the "graphic adventure" genre. While the game offered a very interesting story which a player navigated through clever and sometimes maddeningly difficult puzzles, I think it's fair to say that it wouldn't have been the smash success it was (best-selling pc game of all time until The Sims in 2002) without its incredibly cutting-edge graphics.

Designed and directed by brothers Robyn and Rand Miller, developed by Cyan, and created on Macintosh computers, Myst used StrataVision 3D with retouching by Photoshop 1.0 to create pre-rendered 3D environments and also employed Quicktime animation. The result was a beautifully atmospheric gameplay experience. To this day, it's still one of the most immersive gaming experiences I've ever had (this is also helped by having some truly great music) and while its graphics have long since been surpassed, it's still quite pretty to behold.

The game was remade in 2000 (realMyst: Interactive 3D Edition) with enhanced graphics that were in realtime 3D instead of pre-rendered stills plus weather effects.

3. Starfox (SNES, 1993) And Stunt Race FX (SNES, 1994)
The first 3D game for the SNES was Star Fox which introduced many gamers to those wonderful things called polygons. Harnessing the awesome power of the Super FX Chip, Nintendo, with assistance from Argonaut Software, brought a new experience to console gamers. Luckily it also featured incredibly stellar gameplay rather than just relying on the gimmick of trendy graphics.

The following year, Nintendo and Argonaut put the FX Chip to work once more, this time for a wacky racing game, Stunt Race FX. It remains one of my favourite racers of all time.

Sure, it didn't take long for their blocky and non-detailed graphics to become outdated but I still find both these games very nice to look at. And if you compare and contrast their look to other 3D games of the era on allegedly more powerful systems, it's all the more impressive. Seriously, dig up some screen shots of Atari Jaguar games (the world's first 64-bit system according to Atari) and you'll realize just how well done these games really were.

2. Final Fantasy VII (PSX, 1997)
The graphical splendor of Final Fantasy VII was such that it helped introduce an entirely new generation of gamers to the rpg genre - a genre that was previously limited to a fairly small and specific cross section of gamers - and luckily, beneath all the shiny pre-rendered environments and FMV sequences, there was an incredibly deep and affecting game. The seventh installment of this storied franchise was definitely a worthy entry and remains the favourite of many Final Fantasy fans.

Final Fantasy VI looked about as good as a SNES game could look, pushing the system to its absolute limits. At twenty-four megs, it's the largest (speaking from a graphical capacity standpoint) SNES game in existence and made wonderful use of the system's Mode 7 capabilities. But FF7 marked the first Final Fantasy of the fifth generation consoles and its leap in visuals was significant to say the least.

There was a series of commercials that aired in North America in early 1998 that only showed FMV footage that I'm sure misled quite a number of people who weren't previously familiar with the series. But even though most of the game didn't look quite as impressive as the cut scenes, it was still very pretty. For the first time ever, environments and characters were presented in 3D (fully rendered characters and pre-rendered backgrounds) and, like all Final Fantasy games, the colours were spectacular. But on the Playstation it was brought to an entirely new level.

The game is well over a decade old now but it's still very visually pleasing. Although longtime series artist and character designer Yoshitaka Amano found himself too busy with other projects to be as involved in the game as he would have liked, Tetsuya Nomura stepped in and did a wonderful job as the main artist. He would go on to be the concept artist and character designer for many later Square games including Final Fantasy VIII, X, X-2 and every entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. It was his work in Final Fantasy VII that put him on the map and even with the graphical limitations of the Playstation compared to the standard set by the current generation of consoles, FF7 still holds up extremely well and looks great.

1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PSX, Sega Saturn, 1997)
What's interesting about this game's inclusion on this list is that its visual style was considered "outdated" (kindly referred to as "retro") even back when it was released. The late nineties were all about 3D and many developers abandoned the 2D style altogether - something many realized to be a mistake only within the last few years or so. But Konami recognized that its most popular series was best left in the 2D realm.

The result was a game that is almost unanimously considered to be the best Castlevania ever. As for its graphics, Symphony of the Night is one of the finest examples of beautiful hand-drawn art in any game. That, combined with the gameplay and soundtrack makes it nothing short of a masterpiece. The art is mostly by Ayami Kojima (no relation to Hideo - another giant of Konami) and she's gone on to work on five more games in the Castlevania series.

The game is probably best seen on the Sega Saturn because of its processor's superior ability in rendering 2D graphics  but I've only played the original Playstation version and can only say that it's absolutely beautiful. Over the past decade, Konami has tried to recapture the magic of Symphony with lots of sequels and prequels on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS but none of them can compare graphically or artistically, really.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Great Video Games That You May Have Missed

There was a time – when I was a kid – that video games were incredibly expensive treasures to be savoured over time. As a result of the expensive nature of games there were a lot of titles that could be completely missed for the “big game of the season”.

This list will highlight some of the best games from yesteryear that you may have missed.

5. Golden Sun (GBA)

For those people that really enjoyed RPG games and had a Game Boy Advance, this game may not apply. I think it was even a pack-in with some GBAs, so I might be stepping out of the bounds of this list here. I don’t think so, though. Yeah, the game was popular enough to spawn two sequels – the newest of which will be released in this month, I do believe – but I still feel like there are lots of people out there that didn’t get to enjoy Golden Sun, so it makes the list.

Remember, I’m a professional lister, and you are not.

Golden Sun was a colourful, fun and inventive RPG or the Game Boy Advance, released in 2001 by Camelot Software.

It follows the typical RPG characters – a group of young people tasked with saving the world. The innovations come in the form of the battle system, which utilized “Djinn”, mythical creatures that imbued characters with different forms of elemental magic.

A cool feature to the game was that any character could utilize any Djinn, and they grew together as long as that character was equipped with a Djinn. However, characters could be “adept” to using a specific kind of magic. Someone might be particularly strong with fire and earth magic, over water or wind. The characters could all learn specific abilities corresponding to their Djinn and adept magic-set. It was a very deep battle system.

The biggest complaint about Golden Sun is the constant puzzling in the dungeons, but don’t let that discourage you. The game is insanely fun and enjoyable. You may have missed out on Golden Sun, but now that you know about it, you can get to playing it. GO!

4. Shatterhand (NES)

The NES is a system that gets a lot of praise, all of which is completely deserved. The fact is, however, that there were a great many games on this system that only a select few gamers ever got to try.

Shatterhand is one of the unsung titles from the NES that I try to tell as many people about as I can.

In a lot of ways it’s a Mega Man clone, but it has its very own touches that make it a unique, challenging and fun title.

Released in 1991 by Natsume, in Japan the game was called Super Rescue Solbrain. It was based on a live-action television show in Japan, but when it was localized for the US there were issues over copyright. The game was completely re-branded, sprites changed, and story re-written. The game was released in North America by Jaleco and re-named Shatterhand.

The story follows an ex-cop who had his arms destroyed by a rogue military group known as Metal Command – an army of cyborgs and robots. Our main character – Steve Hermann – is fitted with cyborg arms and codenamed Shatterhand. He then takes the fight to Metal Command.

There is a stage-select screen, much like Mega Man, and you work your way to an end boss for each stage. Once you finish the first six stages, you’re allowed to take on the last stage. As you play through the game you can obtain different power-ups, and depending on the order you collect the power-ups for your arms you can use different weapons. You can also get a little robot buddy that helps you out, almost like a Shoot ‘Em Up.

The game is very difficult. You get two lives to start – but can accumulate more in different stages - and once they're exhausted it’s game over. You do have unlimited continues until you turn the game off, though. It is a very fun, underrated action title and totally worth spending some time on.

3. Terranigma (SNES)

Now here’s a game I’d bet most of you haven’t even heard of. Released in 1995 by Enix, the game was developed by Quintet – the company behind many popular SNES titles like ActRaiser and Illusion of Gaia.

Although the game was released in Europe for the PAL Super Nintendo, it was never released State-side. It seems an odd choice because with an English translation already written, you’d imagine they could make some money releasing the game in North America. With its lackluster sales in Japan and Europe, however, an NA release never came about.

The game is an action-RPG that follows the resurrection of Earth. Yeah, it’s a heady story, but basically the Earth fell to ruin when the “lightside” and the “darkside” – also known as “God” and “Devil” fought for supremacy. Neither won, but as a result the continents of Earth were submerged in water and the Underworld – part of the dark side of Earth – now only has one remaining city. Now a young boy named Ark finds himself trying to resurrect Earth after the battle between God and Devil. That’s the best way I can describe it, because I only had the opportunity to play Terranigma myself for a few days several years ago.

Whether it was the religion/evolution-heavy storyline or the poor sales, Terranigma didn’t make it to the US and Canada but could have been a classic if it had just been given the chance. It uses an action-RPG style, which actually allows the player to attack when either standing still, running, jumping, etc. and the strength of those attacks increases depending on which attack you use. Other than that you level up like any other RPG.

The game looks great. Honestly, when I played Terranigma I had to use an emulator and the monitor I used would only output black and white, but the colours and art look great. I’m usually not a big action-RPG fan, but the time I had with Terranigma has always left me wanting more. I’ve even considering trying to get a PAL Super Nintendo and a copy of the game to truly enjoy it.

Often considered by the developers at Quintet as Illusion of Gaia 2, Terranigma is a damned good RPG. Go on, give it try.

2. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 (PS2)

The Legacy of Kain series has an interesting past. The first game was considered a hit, featuring a vampire by the name of Kain and utilizing a top-down, action semi-RPG style of play. I can say that I never really liked Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – the game’s full title - all that much. That all changed with the release of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver on the Sony Playstation – and also PC and eventually Sega Dreamcast – in THE YEAR 2000!

Ahem, sorry.

Although I consider playing through Soul Reaver one of my fondest video game memories, I have to talk about its direct sequel, Soul Reaver 2, which was released for the Playstation 2 in 2001.

The game directly follows the series of events that occurred in the original title. The depth of story behind these games is amazing, and something to be experienced, so I won’t go into too much detail. Essentially, though, the Soul Reaver games follow Raziel – a fallen General of Kain. Raziel is killed by Kain and resurrected as a new form of being known as a Soul Reaver. I guess you could describe them as a soul vampire, in a way, but with the ability to traverse both the spirit world and the real world. Raziel fights for vengeance against the tyrannical Kain, which sets the stage for Soul Reaver 2.

Soul Reaver 2 not only tackles the depth of story that is present in the Legacy of Kain universe, but incorporates time travel. Oh yes, it goes there.

We have Raziel travelling to different points in the past and the present trying to fix the wrong-doings that befell a group of mythological beings known as the Sarafan, all of which ties into the story of the original Legacy of Kain game. Again, I can’t possibly do the storyline to these games justice, but I wanted to give you some background.

The style is a simple, over-the-shoulder action platformer. As I mentioned before, you can pass between the real world and the spirit world. Each presents different challenges, but can open different paths in the varying levels. You learn different attacks as you progress through the game, which are helpful against the many enemies and challenging boss battles.

Play this game – and its predecessor – for the story, if nothing else. It’s like reading an epic gothic fantasy story all while enjoying an incredible video game.

1. Parasite Eve (PSX)

Parasite Eve might also seem an odd fit for this list, as it is a highly regarded game by many gamers out there. The fact is, however, that Parasite Eve was mostly enjoyed by hardcore gamers in the wake of Square releasing Final Fantasy VII. Parasite Eve actually sold 1.9 million copies worldwide as of 2004 and was the 7th best-selling game of 1998, but I still feel it’s a game that was played by the hardcore and initiated gamer, and was mostly missed by a lot of people in its time.

The game is a rare title in that it was developed by Squaresoft – now Square Enix – and is actually based on a novel by the same title. It follows Aya Brea, a police officer in “present day” Manhattan. This is another story-driven game, so I won’t go into too much detail, but basically mitochondria - look 'em up - are considered reserves of a special kind of energy, and Aya is able to harness that energy in different ways. Certain creatures all over Manhattan begin to turn into monsters, due to their mitochondria, and Aya fights to stop them and whatever is the cause of the outbreak.

The style of the game is so unique. It’s a survival horror-RPG. Basically you go to specific destinations, as there is no “overworld map” like in a traditional RPG. In those areas you can find random encounters, but the fights are like a free-roaming action-RPG. You can’t go anywhere once in a battle – there’s an invisible barrier of sorts – but you can run wherever you like within that barrier and perform attacks whenever your ATB – Active Time Battle – gauge is full. As you level up you learn new attacks and can also upgrade your regular weapons. Aya can use a host of guns, which she can even mix with her mitochondrial attacks.

This game has so much depth in both its story and its gameplay that it should be a must-play for anyone that enjoys video games. It spawned a sequel on the PS2, but it just didn’t quite capture the same feel as the original. It’s still a great game, but not nearly as good as its predecessor. A third game, titled The 3rd Birthday, is coming out very soon for the PSP and although I don’t own a PSP, it’s definitely a game that’s on my radar, but if you play one game in this series, make it the original for the Sony Playstation.